These Divas Be Sangin’

I’ve said it before, but one of the best shows every year is the Divas Simply Singing AIDS benefit.  This year, Sheryl Lee Ralph completely reinvented the enduring event as an elegant, swanky reception, dinner, and concert.  The evening began with a VIP reception and book signing with my dear friend, Jenifer Lewis.  People queued up for an hour as I ushered people in for a photo and a signed copy of The Mother of Black Hollywood.  Some of the luminaries waiting were Freda PayneVictoria RowellJudge MableanThelma Houston, and some of the lesser Braxtons.  But my diva duties weren’t over.  Although I wasn’t playing the piano this year, I still found myself onstage – singing and leading the chorus as Jenifer belted out “I Don’t Want Nobody Fucking With Me In These Streets”.  Then the ageless Thelma Houston did a dynamic set, ending with Jenifer and Sheryl Lee Ralph joining her for a reprise of “Don’t Leave Me This Way”.  Ralph then joined Kenny Lattimore for a touching rendition of “When I First Saw You” from Dreamgirls.  Lattimore raised a few thousand dollars for the cause by auctioning off the chance for some lucky ladies to sit at his feet while he serenaded them.

Then it was time for Jennifer Holliday.  She joined Ralph for a very brief, but memorable, snippet of the dressing room scene from Dreamgirls when Effie calls Deena “common”.  Then, like Lattimore, she auctioned off the chance for people to sit onstage with her as she sang “And I Am Telling You”.  The first $500 bid came from our table.  DJ Pierce (aka Shangela) was up onstage before Holliday even finished talking.  Several others paid $500.  Then a couple of folks ponied up $1,000!  Finally, a couple women paid $250 for this once-in-a-lifetime chance.  I think Holliday raised about $6K with that one song.  And she wasn’t finished.  One guy offered a thousand bucks if she would sing “I Am Changing”.  She called him up to the stage, held him in her arms, and sang the last half of the song directly to him as the tears streamed down his face.  It was a beautiful moment – made all the more touching by Holliday’s genuine surprise that people were willing to spend such large sums for her to sing to them.

The show officially ended with Ralph and Holliday singing “Joy To The World”.  Then the real show started.  While people milled around taking photos, Jenifer and Jennifer came together.  The two divas have a complicated and combustible chemistry.  Holliday proudly helped promote Lewis’ book.  Sheryl joined them for photos, and then the three divas sang together.  You can see it all on

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